I am approximately to be made into cheese. The clothier and engineer Helene Steiner is serene in her lab coat, brandishing a cotton swab and sweetly asking if I would recollect letting her probe between my feet for a bacterial tradition that will turn fresh milk right into a wheel of stilton. She has already shown me the centrifuge, the deep freezer, the little petri dish wherein she can deposit my bacterial pattern, and the incubator wherein the microbes will grow in a single day. It is not going for a laboratory or a cheese dairy – a transformed transport field tucked away behind Shepherd’s Bush marketplace in west London. But then, there’s nothing ordinary about having your germs harvested for cheese on a chilly spring day. “I need to be a nice cheese. Please now, not my feet,” I plead together with her. “How approximately my face instead?”
Selfmade commenced as a studies mission combining biotechnology, engineering, and artwork. The brainchild of the artificial biologist Christina Agapakis and the artist Sissel Tolaas, along with the University of Edinburgh and Stanford University, these cheeses aren’t beautiful or even fit to be eaten; they’re grown from the bits people we might generally scrub away. While one of the cheesemakers running the authentic Selfmade experiments stated she might sample them, and they would be safe to consume, they’re now not presented for consumption. However, as anyone who has ever walked beyond a supermarket cheese counter can have smelled, the microorganisms on human pores and skin, from noses and ears to toes, have plenty in common with the ones in the cheese we consume. Microbacterium lactium from an armpit may odor yoghurty, sour, and floral. Likewise, as Agapakis charmingly points out: “Limburger cheese gives a remarkably close substitute for the smell of human toes.”
This grotesquery is about to move on show on the V&A in London as a part of its upcoming exhibition Food: Bigger Than the Plate. The show examines the future of food, lifestyle, science, and technology, with more than 70 current artwork and layout initiatives on display alongside items from the museum’s collections. Alice V Robinson’s 11458 is a range of add-ons – from slippers to a leather bag with bone clasps – made with merchandise from slaughtering a single sheep. Jiwon Woo’s Mother’s Hand Taste subverts hackneyed stories about the inimitable taste of mum’s cooking through finding the starting place of that taste now not in love, care, or some maternal magic, but in the unique microbial profile of a cook dinner’s arms. Lubaina Himid’s 2007 painting Swallow Hard: The Lancaster Dinner Service consists of found tableware decorated with images of enslaved people, their proprietors, and slave ships and patterns from the west coast of Africa.
My stilton will sit with a cheddar from Suggs’s bacteria, a Heston Blumenthal blue cheese, mozzarella from Professor Green’s germs, and a Cheshire cheese courtesy of Alex James. This stubbornly ordinary, silly, unsterile food antic is right on cue. Errington Cheese, an uncooked milk cheesemaker in Scotland, has been cleared of breaching food safety policies after many months of criminal struggle, so acute is our worry of the unpasteurized and the “unclean”. While uncooked milk is a prison in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland so long as it’s miles labeled as such and offered directly from producer to purchaser, it’s far unlawful in Scotland. Raw-milk cheese is permitted in Scotland but is beneath hazard, and it’s miles against this backdrop that our cheese selves roll in: stinking, fermenting rebuttals to a meal tradition that values manipulation over spontaneity, consistency over natural growth.
Steiner is first-rate with my request to reap cultures from my face instead of my feet. I listen. They took a pattern from James’s armpit so that they have sufficient gross-out credentials already. In truth, going for the face is a similar medical and gastronomic hobby because the website of the swab makes a huge difference – the bacteria that thrive on a foot will vary from those that colonize armpits or faces. Will foot cheese be more smelly than facial cheese? Or (my greatest fear) will the harmless face bacteria create the foulest cheese?
Art has lengthily wrangled with the messy commercial enterprise of meals. Seventeenth-century Dutch nonetheless lives are crowded, fertile visions of lots. The American artist Wayne Thiebaud is recognized for his pastel-hued paintings of sickly sweet desserts, ice cream, and confectionery. Martha Rosler’s 1975 video Semiotics of the Kitchen deconstructed the equipment of the home goddess through a feminist lens. But even though meals and art are dynamic collaborators, museums and galleries conflict to accommodate paintings regarding real food